Full Glossary

AHTEG report

The “Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group report on the potential impacts of genetic use restriction technologies on smallholder farmers, indigenous and local communities” was mandated by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The expert group included representatives from Indigenous peoples’ organizations, civil society and industry. The report found that the potential negative effects of Terminator far outweigh the positive impacts and that the ongoing implementation of the precautionary principle was therefore needed to insure that the rights, safety, and food security of Indigenous and local communities are not threatened. The AHTEG report will be discussed at the next Working Group on Article 8(j) meeting January 23-27 in Granada Spain and will advise the Conference of the Parties to the CBD (COP8) meeting in March in Brazil, where Terminator is on the agenda. Click here for more information on these negotiations.

Biodiversity & Genetic Resources

Biological diversity refers to all living organisms, their genetic material and the ecosystems of which they are a part. It is usually described at three levels: genetic, species, and ecosystem diversity. Genetic diversity is the variation of genes between and within species. Genetic diversity within a species permits it to adapt to new pests and diseases, and to changes in environment, climate, and agricultural methods. Biological diversity is the cornerstone of sustainable agriculture and world food security. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity is a legally binding framework for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and one of the principle fora for negotiations related to access, benefit sharing and the role of Indigenous and local communities. (Source: ETC Group www.etcgroup.org)


A variety of techniques that involve the use and manipulation of living organisms to make commercial products. These techniques include cell culture, tissue culture, embryo transfer, and recombinant DNA technology (genetic engineering).

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety

The biosafety protocol under the Convention on Biological Diversity is called the Cartagena Protocol and is an agreement designed to regulate the international trade, handling and use of genetically modified organisms. It explicitly recognizes the need for a precautionary approach to the environmental release of GMOs. There are still important issues that have not yet been settled inside the protocol, such as the labeling required for transboundary shipments of GM crops. The protocol was in danger of never being established due to the efforts of some countries (the “Miami Group”) led by the US, Canada and Argentina, - the countries with the largest acreage of GM crops in the world. The protocol was adopted in January 2000 and entered into force September 11, 2003. Though over 100 states have ratified the Protocol, there are many others that have not, including Canada and Argentina. The United States has neither ratified the Protocol nor the Convention on Biological Diversity. For more information see greenpeace.org

Centre of Origin/Centre of Diversity:

 A geographical area where a plant species, first developed its distinctive properties (in farmers’ fields or in the wild). Crop diversity – the variation between and within crops and between crops and wild relatives – is a treasure that has been developed and nurtured by thousands of generations of farm families and provides the building blocks of food security and rural development. Mesoamerica, for example, is the centre of origin of maize. Africa is a centre of origin for coffee and for a range of cereal crops such as sorghum, pearl millets, finger millets, and African rice. It is also a secondary centre of diversity for temperate crops such as barley and wheat. Current and future global food security depends on the protection of biodiversity in these areas and the farming communities that sustain it. For example, North American barley was decimated in the 1950s in Canada and the U.S. following an outbreak of yellow dwarf virus. These crops were saved thanks to resistant genes found in an Ethiopian barley variety


The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is an informal network of 16 international agricultural research centres that manages approximately 600,000 agricultural seed samples. It is the most influential agricultural research body in the South, and affects food and agricultural development policies for resource-poor farmers worldwide. In 1994, most of the crop germplasm held in CGIAR gene banks was placed under the auspices of the FAO, to be held in trust for the world community. In 1998 CGIAR adopted a policy against use of Terminator: "The CGIAR will not incorporate into its breeding materials any genetic systems designed to prevent seed germination. This is in recognition of (a) concerns over potential risks of its inadvertent or unintended spread through pollen; (b) the possibilities of sale or exchange of viable seed for planting; (c) the importance of farm-saved seed, particularly to resource-poor farmers; (d) potential negative impacts on genetic diversity; and (e) the importance of farmer selection and breeding for sustainable agriculture." www.cgiar.org


Seeds or genes that are unwanted in a particular place for any reason. See the Union of Concerned Scientists www.ucsusa.org

Convention on Biological Diversity

The CBD, under the United Nations, is a legally binding framework agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of biodiversity. It was adopted in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992. There is a moratorium on Terminator technology at the CBD: Decision V/5, III. This moratorium was under attack by a few governments but was upheld and strengthened at the CBD COP8 March 2006.


was the 8 th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The COP is the governing body of the CBD. ”Parties” to the COP refers to those countries that have signed and ratified the Convention.

COP8 met in Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil March 20-31 and it was at this meeting that the moratorium on Terminator was upheld and strengthened - despite the strong efforts of industry and a few rich governments to end the moratorium. Click here to read the final decision from COP8.

Corporate Concentration

Concentration in corporate power is the defining feature of today's global economy. The ‘life sciences’ industry is converging into new corporate structures that have profound implications for every aspect of commercial food, agriculture and health. Today, a handful of multinational seed and agrochemical companies dominate global seed sales and 2004-2005 saw an upsurge in seed industry takeovers. The top 10 companies control 49% of the world’s $21,000 million commercial seed sales. In 2004, one company’s biotech seeds and traits – Monsanto’s - accounted for 88% of the total GM crop area worldwide. See “Global Seed Industry Concentration – 2005”, ETC Communiqué, September/October 2005, ETC Group www.etcgroup.org Click here to read discussion of GURTs and corporate concentration


The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) is the international agency mandated to put an end to hunger. The FAO is supposed to act as a neutral forum where nations can meet to debate issue. FAO is also a source of information about agriculture and food issues. In 2000, the FAO Panel of Eminent Experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture unanimously stated that, “the 'terminator seeds' generally are unethical, finding it unacceptable to market seeds, the offspring of which a farmer cannot use again because the seeds could not germinate." In 2000 the media reported the following statement from the Director General of the FAO
Dr. Jacques Diouf: "We are against [terminator genes]. We are happy to see that in the end some of the main multinationals which have been involved in implementing these terminator genes have decided to backtrack."

Farmers' Rights

Farmers' Rights, as endorsed by FAO in 1989, recognize that farmers and rural communities have contributed greatly - and continue to contribute - to the creation, conservation, exchange and enhancement of genetic resources, and that they should be recognized and strengthened in their work. In 1996, Via Campesina argued for Farmers’ Rights in the following way:


Food Sovereignty

Food sovereignty has largely replaced the more limited and less empowering concept of food security. Food sovereignty refers to the rights of peoples, communities and countries to define their own agricultural labour, fishing, food and land policies which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances. It includes the true right to food and to produce food, which means that all people have the right to safe, nutritious and cultural appropriate food and to food producing resources and the ability to sustain themselves and their societies. (Source: Practical Action www.practicalaction.org)

Gene Flow

is the movement of genes from one population of plants to another, usually via pollination.

Click here to find out about the risks of contamination with Terminator seeds.

Genetic Modification

Molecular-level techniques used to move genetic material from the cells of one organism to those of another. These techniques, which may be used to transfer genes between unrelated organisms or to remove and rearrange genes within a species, are also called genetic engineering, gene splicing or transgenic.

Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTS)

is the “official” name for Terminator technology that is used at the United Nations and by scientists. It refers to a general category of technologies that, in their design, provide a mechanism to switch previously introduced genes on or off, using external inducers like chemicals or physical stimuli (e.g. heat shock). This mechanism allows for restricted use or performance of transgenes. There are two main categories of GURTs, namely trait-related or T-GURTs and variety-related or V-GURTs. Whilst T-GURTs aims to control the use of traits such as insect resistance, stress tolerance or production of nutrients, V-GURTs aims to control reproductive processes that will result in seed sterility, thus affecting the viability of the whole variety. (V-GURTs is a concept, with many different potential designs.) The ability to switch the GURTs mechanism on or off externally enables the producer to exercise control either over traits or the viability of seeds (Source: EcoNexus See www.econexus.info)


The Oxford English Dictionary defines greenwash as: Disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. The organization CorpWatch (www.corpwatch.org) defines greenwashing as:


Terminator seeds are not the same as hybrid seeds, because hybrid seeds are not sterile. A hybrid variety refers to the offspring of two parental plants that differ from one another in one or more genes. Hybrids in the second generation show reduced vigour and fail to “breed true” so there is less benefit for farmers to save hybrid seeds for sowing the following year. As a result, farmers are inclined to purchase new seed annually if they wish to continue using that particular hybrid cultivar. There is, however, no biological mechanism preventing them from using hybrid seeds in breeding programmes of their own.

Indigenous Knowledge

Indigenous knowledge is seen as the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples, or local knowledge particular to an area, region or country, etc. All indigenous peoples are traditional knowledge holders but not all traditional knowledge-holders may be indigenous. (Source: GRAIN www.grain.org/briefings/?id=97#_edn1)

Intellectual Property Rights and Patents

The term "intellectual property" refers to a group of laws-such as patents, Plant Breeders' Rights, copyright, trademarks and trade secrets - that are intended to protect inventors and artists from losing control over their intellectual creations - their ideas. Intellectual property has become a powerful tool to enhance corporate monopoly and consolidate market power. Monopoly control over plants, animals and other life forms jeopardizes world food security, undermines conservation and use of biological diversity, and threatens to increase the economic insecurity of farming communities. (Source: ETC Group www.etcgroup.org)

Male Sterility

Male sterility is not Terminator technology. Male sterility is already in commercial use for hybrid seeds of transgenic herbicide tolerant canola (rapeseed) where as Terminator technology has not yet been field trialed or commercialized (it is currently being tested in greenhouses in the US). Seeds of the male sterile parental line are viable and both seed and pollen in the resulting commercialised hybrid are viable.


In 2000, governments at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity created a moratorium on Terminator (GURTS or Genetic Use Restriction Technologies) via Decision V/5, III which recommends that governments not approve field testing or commercial use of Terminator.

Initially the Decision was cautiously referred to as a de facto moratorium because, although it functioned in reality as a moratorium, it was not officially called a moratorium. Following the March 2006 UN COP8 meeting in Brazil, the Decision is now understood as a stronger moratorium. This is because of the political will expressed by governments and because the language was slightly strengthened.


Open-pollinated seeds are produced when plants are allowed to pollinate naturally through insects, wind and water. If you isolate each variety properly, you can save the seeds for re-planting year after year.

Precautionary principle

The UN Rio Declaration on Environment and Development defines the precautionary principle as: “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage. Lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.” The precautionary principle is widely seen as a principle of particular relevance to the regulation of genetically modified organisms, where there is scientific uncertainty and the potential for adverse health and environmental impacts.


is the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

At the 10 th SBSTTA meeting in February 2005 in Bangkok, a leaked memo exposed that the Canadian government was preparing to overturn the de facto moratorium on Terminator. In the end, the moratorium remained because of the interventions of other governments and because of protest from around the world. SBSTTA is important because this body discusses the science of Terminator and can request more research into a technology that should be banned.

Terminator Technology

The genetic modification of plants to produce sterile seeds (dubbed "Terminator" technology by RAFI - now ETC group - in 1998) has been widely condemned by civil society, scientific bodies and many governments as an immoral application of biotechnology. If commercialized, Terminator would prevent farmers from re-using seed from their harvest, forcing them to return to the commercial seed market. Terminator is “officially” called Genetic Use Restriction Technology or GURTS at the United Nations and in the scientific community. It has also been called “suicide seeds.” Delta & Pine Land, the corporation that jointly holds three patents on Terminator with the United States Department of Agriculture refers to its proprietary Terminator system as a “Technology Protection System (TPS).” For extensive documentation on Terminator since 1998 see www.etcgroup.org

Traditional Knowledge

There is an abundance of local expertise in plant genetic resources that has been in use over a considerable period of time and is also constantly evolving. In agriculture, for instance, this knowledge is shown in the development and adaptation of plants and crops to different ecological conditions (soils, rainfall, temperature, altitude etc…). Traditional knowledge is people’s awareness and understanding of this and other information, which is passed on from one generation to the next, usually by word of mouth or example within a specified group of people. Indigenous knowledge is often used interchangeably with traditional knowledge (Source: GRAIN www.grain.org/briefings/?id=97#_edn1)

Working Group on Article 8(j)

Refers to work under the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) that acknowledges the need to protect traditional knowledge. Article 8(j) of the Convention recognises the need to respect the skills and practices of Indigenous peoples and local communities, to ensure consent for the wider use of these skills and practices, and to ensure equitable benefit-sharing if such use takes place. As stated in the Preambular paragraph of the Convention text, the member countries recognise the desirability of sharing equitably the benefits arising from the use of traditional knowledge. (Source: GRAIN http://www.grain.org/briefings/?id=97#_edn1)